Today’s Community Superhero is Karen E. Barnett, CSW,
Director of Bridgeton Municipal Alliance – Youth to Youth.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Karen and I must say, she is an incredible woman. With a smile from ear to ear, her happiness is contagious. With honesty and caring an obvious fuel for her mission, it is quite safe to say she is more than an asset to our community.
Of CASA, she says, “I have been a long-time supporter of and collaborator with the Cumberland initiative and look forward to expanding opportunities for our program to complement and establish a broader continuum of services that are being provided to youth and families in the City of Bridgeton.”
Her dedication to our youth is phenomenal. When asked what she does to help spread awareness and prevention of child abuse she said, “On a personal level; first and foremost, as a visual example of “positive-strength based” parenting and mentoring of my own son, nephews, god-children and communal children. Through conversation and supportive articulation of observations, every encounter becomes and opportunity to expand our own and others alternative options for coping skills and behavior modification. Consistently supporting alternative options to verbal, emotional or physical abuse from a posture of “make better” instead of “make wrong” allows parents and youth to re-align triggers and responses to learned behavior and reactions. It also allows them to pick and choose from a “menu of behavioral and verbal options:” that may not have been presented to them in the past. Secondarily; from a programmatic perspective, I infuse these same conversations and tools into all of our prevention programming and social and cultural experiences for youth, parents and community stakeholders. Through social media, workshops, social networking and self-guided access to expanded programs and support groups; child abuse awareness and prevention is an intricate tenet and protective factor to addressing family management problems within our community.”
Of course, I just had to know who her favorite superhero is! Definitely a woman with a plan, Karen gave me an answer like no other, “For the purpose of being able to connect the readers of this to a concrete concept I am going to choose Wonder Woman! (However my family (Barnett-Conaway-Murray-Thompson’s) and sidekicks GTC and S. Denby are my favorite Super Hero for their collective transformative and support powers) Now, getting back to Wonder Woman … much like me she spent her time fighting for justice, love, peace and equality. Often partnering with the Justice League and other super friends, she was about transformation. I consider myself a “change agent” and through programming and my personal life I seek to transform individuals and communal environments to maximize positive potential.
If I could actually make Wonder Woman’s tools manifest themselves for daily utilization they would be as listed:
Lasso of Truth: So that parents and agencies could see the damage that they inflict on youth and families when they are not truly committed to the needs of our most vulnerable community members … youth.
Indestructible Bracelets: Each child would be equipped with a set to deflect all the negative physical, verbal and emotional experiences that come their way.
Tiara: This had the ability to serve as a projectile when needed and I would use it to toss all the hurt that youth and parents experience or have experienced by other youth, adults or agencies.
Invisible Plane: I would use the plane to expose the daily wrongs that are perpetuated by youth, parents, community members and agencies towards individuals who trust them to meet their basic needs, protect them, and empower them towards self-fulfillment and independence.”
We know bullying is a serious issue in our schools, and it won’t get better unless a community-wide effort is given. She feels that we can make a difference, “By viewing bullying from a more “holistic” perspective and treating it as a collective problem instead of an individual issue with peripheral damage. We have to access our societal norms and behaviors to make a greater impact on this devastating issue and understand that it is intricately tied to all the abuses. (e.g. domestic, sexual, animal) From our own personal behaviors and responses to how media socializes the “blank slates” of infants, we must collectively provide a continuum of bully free behaviors and language in addition to identifying and re-directing “gateway behaviors and language” in both children and adults. This means aligning expectations and examples at home and in the community first and then those expectations and examples being consistent in the schools. Programs, curriculums after the fact are fine but proactive development and manifestation of “bully free and bully-less” behaviors, language and communities that imprint youth from birth are more effective! We … as parents, adults, relatives, community members, mentors and teachers are the first teachers … let’s get it right from the start!
Staying involved is absolutely a strong area for Barnett. Just sitting with her for the short time I did, handfuls of residents stopped and said hi to her, waved, and wished her well. Impressed to say the least, I wanted to know how far her community involvement stretched. She said,”My civic resume for over 25 years included in excess 10 organizations that I had formal participation and membership. Through effective succession planning or divergent perspectives on the direction of the organizational missions I have reduced membership to the following:
- NCADD-NJ Advocacy Leader and trainer
- Leadership Cumberland County – Mentor
- GEMS – Girls Are Not For Sale
- NJ Black Issues Convention – Cumberland County and an active contributor and supporter to the Bridgeton Public School Systems, Cumberland County GEAR UP and EOF programs
However, as an advocate I am peripherally involved in any organization that is providing services to the residents in Cumberland County and have the ability to support the general public in exercising their voice for accountability in delivery of service.”
She made the decision to become involved in our fight against child abuse and neglect because, “Child abuse and child neglect fracture the very foundation of society and the most vulnerable. Being raised in an extended family, with a somewhat “commune” structure, I experienced multi-generational love, support and structure from family members and the “like” adults and families that my parents and relatives exposed me to. I also was exposed to children that had less and upon entering school also saw those that had endured abuse. The paradox was stark and I knew that it was wrong! The child that sticks out in my mind is “Michael” whose mother punished him for wetting the bed by locking him outside in the snow. After she left for work he walked to school … the only safe place he knew. By the time he got there he was suffering from hypothermia and frost bite. Upon the school nurse taking his frozen clothes off she found multiple fresh and old cigarette burns all over his back, buttocks and thighs. We all knew kids that were under DYFS care but this was a family that had the worst horror stories. I followed the plight of the children in the family for a number of years through their involvement with the criminal justice system. Several years ago I hosted a summer session of Strengthening Families as facilitated by SODAT. Upon introducing myself, a young lady asked if I was from Newport. She later introduced herself and identified her family. To my sadness, she was Michael’s sister and was taking the course because her children had been removed by DCF. So … over 35 years later the cycle continues … all from a “fracture” that was never healed and then passed on to another generation. I knew that the reality that I had experienced was different than the reality of a lot of other children. My goal, in my 35 years of providing social services and advocacy has been to make the reality of protection, provisions, love, hope, access and fulfillment … the reality that was afforded to me … the reality that is afforded to all!”
Our community will thrive with a lot of involvement from residents. Barnett feels that the areas needing the most improvement are:
- Delivery of Services
- Accountability in delivery of service
- Access to qualitative services
- True empowerment of consumers and communities
- Engaged parents and community stakeholders
- Driven, devoted, and demanding parents/mentors/advocates/agencies that are drive, devoted and desirous of maximizing their personal potential as a foundational ingredient for maximizing the individual potential of each child/individual in their family and community.
“I am desirous of being an agent of change that can construct, enhance and/or transform individuals and communities beyond their identified potential. It begins with fortification and a sound foundation … free of emotional, physical or psychological fractures that can not be seen by the naked eye. Child abuse and oppression is the mutation that lies dormant in 1000’s of individuals until the weight of the world becomes too great and that triggering event causes it to rise and destroy another life or lives. We can do better… we must do better … better building, better remodeling and better transforming for our … children … the fabric and foundation of our society and future.”
Karen Barnett is a true, selfless community superhero and because of her deep want and need for a stronger community with strengthened families, we are able to want the same. Catch a little of what she has and spread the support and awareness. Every little bit makes a difference!
Do you know of a Community Superhero? Help CASA of CGS recognize the effort put forth by them to improve our community!
Email Jennifer Kaysen at Jennkaysen@gmail.com.
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Are you ready, Superheroes?
Don’t miss this opportunity to have fun, get silly, and support our cause! Our children need every bit of support we can give! you can easily register online here: https://wespeakupforchildren.org/registration/
If you register before the big day, you’ll receive a t-shirt!
CASA of CGS is holding informational meetings! Please join us!
If you’re interested in learning more about CASA of CGS,an informational meeting will be held tonight from 7 to 8 p.m. in Gloucester County at the county library. Bring a friend and join us!
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are no commitments needed. The meetings are strictly for informational purposes. It’s always good to know what kind of help your community has to offer. Cumberland County ranked last place in Child Welfare in New Jersey. Let’s stand up for our children and do something about it! Can’t make it out to the meeting but still interested in information? Contact Susanna at email@example.com.